Interview: Korey Neal, Pres. of K. Neal Truck & Bus Center

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Korey Neal, president of K Neal Truck & Bus Center

Korey Neal is the president of the K. Neal Truck and Bus Center, which is a “full-service multi-location commercial truck and bus dealership.” Clients who wish to procure trucks or buses for their own enterprises and who want to support “one of only two minority-owned commercial truck and bus dealership” in the US should flock to the K. Neal Truck and Bus Center. The dealership also has five locations in the Greater Washington DC area alone. Among the dealership’s offerings is the complete product line of Class 3 to 8 commercial vehicles, representing various manufacturers, such as International Trucks, IC School Bus, Hino, Isuzu, Collins Bus, Diamond Bus, and Cummins.

As president of the K. Neal Truck and Bus Center, Korey Neal specializes in the following fields: “Profit; People, Process, & Procedures; Forecasting; Vendor Negotiation; Expense Management; Inventory Management; Developing Talent.” He also manages the dealership’s operations in five locations, as well as controls the company assets. Aside from supervising the company’s daily operations, he also directs their marketing and sales strategies, human resource management, and strategic partnerships.

Aside from being president, Korey Neal also serves as the dealership’s General Manager and Vice President. Prior, he was Director of Business Development. As GM, he ran several company departments, which include “Mobile Service, Fleet Service, Body Shop, Parts Department, Marketing, Business Development, Truck Sales, Bus Sales, and Technology.”

Korey Neal was also an NFL offensive lineman for the Washington Football Team and the Carolina Panthers.

Check out more interviews with high-level executives here.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Korey Neal: My name is Korey Neal, and I’m from the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. I grew up as an athlete, playing football and basketball throughout high school which turned into a full football scholarship to Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Once I graduated from EMU, I was offered the opportunity to participate in NFL training camps for the Carolina Panthers and the Washington (formerly Redskins) teams. I ended up not making it through either of the NFL training camps, and it was a turning point for me. To be that close to becoming a professional football player and not make it — the opportunity of a lifetime — was my reckoning point. Maybe I wasn’t as committed to my craft as I thought I was. When there’s 100 people in a room, 75 make the cut and you’re in the mid 80’s, that’s not a talent gap. It’s a commitment gap.

That moment started this drive inside of me to never miss out on an opportunity for a lack of commitment. I always want to be able to say that my commitment is tied to whatever I do.

After that short stint of trying my best hand at what I thought would be my future, I transitioned over into the family business — K.Neal Truck and Bus Center (K.Neal). My journey to upper management was a 7-year process that involved learning the business from the bottom up. I spent 6–12 months at a time learning every department or business unit in our company which led to becoming the general manager in 2017, and the President of K.Neal by 2018.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Korey Neal: The hardest or most difficult time in my life was actually from my childhood. Though I was a good athlete, I never really had confidence in high school regarding my academics, specifically my ability to read. It wasn’t until I was about 16 years old that I developed confidence in my performance as a student. As a part of the overall sports program, I was assigned a tutor to support my academic growth while attending St. John’s College High School. My tutor was the first person to really help me understand the why behind learning the concepts and techniques that would make me a better reader and ultimately a better learner. Thanks to her, I now consider myself a lifelong learner, invest regularly in my personal development, and strive to read one book per week throughout the year.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Korey Neal: One of the four satellite stores we have in our organization was my first big assignment. It was my chance to manage my first profit and loss sheet (P&L), balance sheet, and the talent that supported our work at that location. I think when we are all starting out, we have this sense that we know what we are doing, but I quickly found out that there was much more that I didn’t know, especially when it came to managing the people.

As the person in charge, I was faced with all of things we didn’t learn in school. How do you deal with people being late? How do you respond to irate employees?

I once had an employee storm into my office after I changed her schedule by 30 minutes (a change we had already discussed), and she proceeded to use every profanity possible to express her anger in front of all of my staff. I was probably 25 years old at the time and had no idea what to do. We had already discussed these changes as a staff and regardless of how she behaved in the moment, I knew I needed her support to continue to keep our business running. I listened and had to respond. It ended up working out, but in that moment, it was anything but funny.

Now I look back at moments like that and realize that these are the moments that made me. Moments that were uncomfortable and complicated are what prepared me to work with close to 100 different personalities, preferences, and workstyles in my organization today.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Korey Neal: At K.Neal we have 5 laws that govern our daily interactions and align with our mission and vision as a company. These laws are universal traits that we believe capture what it means to be a great business:

  1. Customer Focus — Serving the customer well is always the end goal. When we plan, make changes, restructure, add or remove any components of our business or offering, we start with our customer.

  2. Embody Humility — As we have developed our identity at K.Neal, we want our customers and the world to know that we believe strongly in the power of humility. We know that there are a number of ways we serve our customers and our employees well, but how can we improve? How do we handle situations when we get it wrong? Humility is the standard in our company for how to approach situations and especially our customer’s needs. We are getting better at creating a more open dialogue within our organization that we extend across the counter between our associates and our customers.

  3. Trust — At K.Neal, we believe that a great company is one that can be trusted. Will you do what you say you do and do it well? Will you standby your promise when times are challenging or uncomfortable? All of these questions relate to the ability of your company to foster trust internally and externally.

  4. Be Dynamic — If COVID didn’t teach us anything else, it taught every business leader to either proactively or reactively become dynamic. Good businesses are the reactors. Great businesses are preemptive in developing this trait of being dynamic as an organization. This is a critical characteristic of companies that have withstood the test of time, economic turbulence, and market uncertainty.

  5. Win- Win- Win — This one may seem simple, but good companies aspiring to be great have to have a universal mindset across the organization of winning. When you’re on the business playing field, you have to have a strategy on how to win the game. The game or goal may change overtime, but the object — to out-serve and out-sell your competition, doesn’t need to change. As a former athlete, I understood that the overarching goal of the all-day training schedule, study halls, team meetings, grueling practices, and strict social guidelines was to win games and ultimately, the championship. You have to decide as a business leader, what is our championship? What are the goals, 100-day plans, and remote working all leading up to? What’s our trophy for the year and what’s the difference between third, second and first place? Developing a winning mindset and strategy is a steppingstone from being a good company to becoming a great company.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Korey Neal: I believe that being purpose driven is necessary not only in business, but in life. Most of the successful people we admire or celebrate have some since of purpose that drives them to succeed or be the best at what they do. The same can be said for business. Having a clear purpose enables businesses to harness passion and intent to reach the next level. How companies can get to that answer of what is our purpose, starts with their why as Simon Sinek points out in his book, “Start with Why.” Why is our company here? What problems do we solve? How does what we do impact the surrounding community? These are all questions that shape a company’s purpose and can ultimately affect the bottom line.

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Korey Neal: Today, the ability to increase conversion rates is an ever-changing skill. The transportation industry is both progressive and still in a lot ways, old-fashioned. We employ digital and traditional marketing strategies for reaching our customers, but we still have a large number of customers who value that in-person (or virtual) personal touch — and that’s how we close deals. We regularly visit our customers and have expanded our social media marketing strategies to appeal to the younger segment of our customer base. We’ve seen leads increase online by giving the customer the information they would need to make a decision without having to be there in person. E-commerce is a growing sales engine in the transportation space, and we are claiming our stake in that trend. The overall strategies I would suggest are to really study your customer avatar. What do they value? How has COVID affected their business? How can you service your customer in way that supports their bottom line and yours?

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Korey Neal: Build trust by doing what you say you’ll do. More than ever, consumers are looking for brands who deliver on their promise of service, safety, efficiency, and consistency. It takes years to build a trusted and beloved brand, and it can take 50 characters on Twitter to completely change and possibly destroy a brand as it relates to the customer and public opinion. Empower your company to keep its word to deliver on the promises you’ve made and be accountable when you don’t.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Korey Neal: Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Learn more about K.Neal Truck and Bus Center:

Follow me on Instagram: @knealtbc

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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